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Monica J. O'Rourke interviews
Horror writer and feoamante.com contributor, Monica J. O'Rourke, a long time friend of Dallas, brings an intimate knowledge of her subject to this exclusive interview.
We headed to his nearby apartment for the interview so he could medicate Cujo, his diabetic cat. Back at his place we're greeted at the door by an assortment of felines, all rescue kitties. Clearly they own the apartment and generously allow Ketchum to live there as well.
The apartment is almost immaculate, and he confesses to being a neat freak. The vacuum in the corner of the living room looks almost as natural there as a stick of furniture.
We settle down with a couple of scotches and begin:Monica J. O'Rourke: Initial reviews of THE LOST have called it a "modern day 'Last House on the Left'" and "a love letter to the fiction it's based upon." But what about the film would you have changed, or handled differently?
Jack Ketchum: I liked the movie a lot, and if I could've done the four-hour Masterpiece Theater edition, I would've absolutely put back the cat because the cat was an important part of (the book). If they'd had a bigger budget, I would have preferred that it be set when the book was originally set, in the 60s. Given those givens, anything else I would say would be quibbles and not even worth mentioning.
MO: The ending of the film is much bloodier than that of your novel. What was your initial reaction to the film’s ending?
JK: The ending of the film is not much bloodier than my novel. In fact, the ending in the film leaves open the question as to whether Katherine survives or not.
In my book, she's definitely dead. And the only thing that is different about the ending - it's major but it's understandable, because this is celluloid and the book is print - is the coda at the end of the book in which Ray, in fact, dies of AIDS because he's infected by getting ass raped by this nasty large inmate. It would have been nice to put that in the film but I understand why Chris (director Chris Sivertson) didn't. And he ends it on such a high note that I was personally stunned. I didn't know what to make of it the first time I saw it; in fact, I wasn't sure I liked it. Because you don't know whether Ray survives or not and you have to make up your own mind. But that's not the point.
The point that Chris was making is the ferocity of the cops' response to Ray and Ray's response to the girls. It's the ferocity that makes the movie work so well. If there had been any coda to the movie, it would have spoiled the movie.
MO: The violence in the film is extreme, but not more extreme than many films being released these days. However, full frontal nudity is still somewhat taboo and might be a limiting factor. That said, do you feel the film has commercial appeal? And does that matter to you?
JK: I'm with Chris on that. He feels that he would be perfectly happy to release this theatrically, without a rating.
If somebody with great big bucks comes to him and says, "Do you want to try to cut it?", he could try to cut it. How he would cut it I don't really understand because to do much with the ending would be to pretty much destroy the film. And I don't think that’s really what he has in mind.
I think he's thinking limited release theatrically, maybe some small art theaters, DVD, possibly IFC and Sundance channels, and then foreign. And yeah, I'm perfectly fine with that. I wouldn't really want to cut. I think that would be silly.
MO: I think the only thing Chris would cut would be a lot of the nudity.
JK: I think they would cut a lot of the dialog. At the end Ray's telling the girls to show him their "fucking titties," he’s saying, "Show me your cunt," he uses words that you just don't hear in most movies. I've had responses, and so has Chris, about the language in that last scene that's even more shocking to some people than the actual occurrences. And to cut back (the film), and cut that dialog, it'd be like watching a movie for Turner home television where in the dialog they’re supposed to be saying "shit" and instead they're saying "darn."
MO: If someone with big bucks were to come along and want to release it, do you think they would without a rating? Wouldn’t they insist on an edit?
JK: No, I think it's impractical to think someone is going to come along and throw them a lot of money on this, and I don't think anyone was thinking this is that kind of movie. Everyone concerned seems pretty content with the film as it is, and they don't want to muck with it much. And I think that’s all for the good.
We've had some approaches from one festival in Boston. It's getting a lot of festival play. I don't know how ordinary that is. We're looking at putting it into NECon, Horrorfind, into Rock and Shock, stuff like that. And I think that's good, it's going to build a lot of word of mouth. I think this movie is gonna become a cult film.
MO: Ray Pye is one of the most vivid, evil psychopaths ever created. Where did you find the inspiration to create him? Where does your fascination with brutality come from?
JK: Ray Pye is based on a guy named Charles "Smitty" Schmid. He fascinated me for a long time, because he's the little loser, he's the childhood bully, the playground bully.
MO: Smitty, or Ray?
JK: Both. Because they're essentially the same. He's the guy that you hated in high school. Usually he was bigger than you, but in this case he's smaller than you. But he was cute, so he got the girls, he was tough, so you steered clear of him. And I hated Smitty from the moment I saw his pictures in Bloodletters and Badmen. I just took one look at the guy with this big smirk on his face, being taken to trial in handcuffs. And as it did with Gertrude Baniszewski in The Girl Next Door, the image of him stayed with me, and I knew I wanted to write about it. And it was mitigated by the fact that I knew what he had done, and how stupid he was. I'm very attracted to stupid people in fiction. The stupidest thing he possibly could've done was to brag to another girlfriend about the murder of a former one—and he did.
I wanted to make Ray, as I want to make all of my antagonists, human. So that you can somewhat sympathize with them. If I had just done Smitty the way it really was, you could have written him off and couldn't have written a whole novel about him.
MO: He would have become a stereotype. And the way you wrote Ray, he was very human. Somehow a sympathetic character at times.
JK: In a weird way. And he's got some charm. He has some positive moments, both in the book and in the film, that are ambiguous. I like ambiguity a lot.
The moment in the film where Katherine's mother dies, Ray actually seems sympathetic, which you don't expect at all. He doesn't seem manipulative. He seems at that point to be actually a little bit stunned by the fact that this has gone on with a girl who he thinks he's in love with. So he's got some aspects which are human and which we can relate to. And he's almost sympathetic when he confesses to her about the thrill he got from (the killings). He says, "I know I'm fucked up," —and I tried to hit that scene very hard in the novel because he's being manipulative and (at the same time) he's being revealing of himself. And I think they touched on that same feeling in the movie. I think Chris is extremely attentive to the emotional interplays between the characters in the book. And I appreciate that enormously, that the guy would try to do that. Because it could easily have been glossed over and just made . . . cheaper.
MO: Except for the cat, Chris stayed very true to the book.
JK: Yeah. Very much. And cats are expensive—cat wranglers don't come cheap (laughs). I get it. And it would have inflated the film's running time. Though when I mentioned to Chris that I missed the cat, he added the cat to his second script. But that ran to about two and a half hours , so unless we're doing the Masterpiece Theater version, the cat had to go. Maybe we'll do another movie someday with just the cat (laughs).
MO: How many versions of the script where there, and did Chris write them all?
JK: Chris wrote them all—there were at least two earlier versions, and I saw them both and commented on both, gave him some pointers as to what I thought he might strengthen or whatever. But I knew from the first script that he was going to try to be very faithful to the book, and that was really assuring.
You had a second part to your question . . .
MO: Yes - where does your fascination with brutality come from?
JK: Ah, that. Brutality's always scared me. It scares me much more than ghosts, much more than demons.
As a kid, like most of us, there's a thrill about being scared that you kind of love. You see these movies, and they're terrifying, the music gets loud. And I've always loved the old Universal horror films. Early on I saw some of the silent features—Nosferatu, Hunchback of Notre Dame, stuff like that. Phantom of the Opera. But in the real world, what scares me are the bullies of the world, in the largest sense of that word.
Saddam Hussein scares me as much as George Bush scares me as much as the playground bullies scared me way back when I was a kid. And I think that probably I come from a background where it wasn't black and white because I could be a bully myself when I was a kid if I had somebody to bully. So I realized that that was in me, and it's not a part of me that I'd ever want to really see again. And I think it's gone. Or if it's not gone, it's damned well pretty well buried. But they're out there, and they still scare me. I work often out of fury or anger, and I'll find a bully who reminds me of someone I know or have known, distance himself from me and put him on the page, and then show what an asshole he actually is. Show how he does it, why he does it, and then sympathize with him too. Because there's that in me.
MO: Do you know a lot of bullies still?
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